Whether you're starting guitar for the first time or you're a seasoned rockstar looking to reach the next level of guitar mastery, one of the toughest decisions is: Should I take online guitar lessons or find myself a good local guitar teacher?
So, to save you the leg work, here's the pros and cons of both learning types based on:
- what you learn
- how you learn it
- commitment required and
Full disclosure; Ben Plant Guitar runs local guitar lessons (in Ringwood, Victoria, Australia) and are in the process of developing some online-only courses, so my perspective is from that of an experienced Guitar Teacher and from having learnt through both methods myself in the past.
Niche genres are easier to learn online, but beginners should take a few in-person lessons first
I had a student contact me once asking to learn the Hawaiian Lap Steel Guitar, as she had inherited one from her late Father and had always wanted to learn.
Now, I can play a Lap Steel Guitar, having dabbled in slide guitar here and there, but would I be a good Lap Steel teacher? Of course not - it's not my specialty!
And, unfortunately, I don't know of anyone in the area who is (if you are though, please get in touch, I'd love to chat).
Niche styles, techniques and genres are perfect for learning online, as you can choose from experts around the world who specialise in that area.
On the flip side, most beginner students who start learning with us have tried self-teaching from online beginner courses and were frustrated by their lack of results.
The most common feedback I hear from students who have taken this path after a few weeks is "I've learnt more in the last week than I did from 6 months online".
Why is that? Part of it is the lack of feedback, which we'll get to in a minute, but online guitar lessons suck at building your:
- Practice habits
- The real basic, basic fundamentals (positioning your fingers, holding the guitar, sitting, where to look, the different types of guitar notation, etc etc)
so when you're first starting out, even if you want to exclusively learn Post-Melodic Grind-core, do yourself a favour and take at least a month or two of face-to-face lessons from a decent generalist guitar teacher first.
Learn online anywhere, but you can't substitute playing with real players
I'm naturally a night-owl, and with the commitments of touring, recording and teaching, my schedule can get pretty chaotic at times.
The online guitar courses I'm taking at the moment are extremely flexible in that regard, as they're presented in videos and PDF tabs (Skype lessons and Webinars are always useless for me, however, as they're no more flexible than in-person lessons).
I can sit down whenever I want, get out the laptop and headphones and start learning, any time of day or night (on the electric guitar through headphone amps, of course. Happy family = happy guitarist).
This is a double-edged sword for undisciplined players, as it's very easy to either rush yourself trying to learn too much at once or get lazy and put off the next lesson each time you get 'too busy' (this is a big no-no term for any guitar master, FYI), slowing down your progress.
The regular schedule of most guitar lessons with teachers are great for getting you into a routine. Haven't practiced this week? Well you're about to pay the price when your teacher and fellow students find out!
This structure and accountability is a great way to fast-track your progress, so regularly playing with other musicians will make a big difference to how much you enjoy learning and how fast you learn.
Even if you do opt for online lessons, find yourself a couple of musicians you can regularly play with in real life too.
When I first started playing with Hybrid Nightmares, our weekly full-day rehearsals made my metal playing improve out of sight. One of the biggest reasons? If I couldn't play something one week, I didn't want to come in next week and still not be able to play it, which drove me to practice harder!
This is one area guitar schools and teachers are fantastic at providing. With zero effort on your behalf apart from showing up for your lesson, you will have access to other players you can regularly play along with, giving you encouragement, feedback and motivation.
Results still depend on the lessons (and you)
A good teacher will get you good results. A great teacher will get you great results!
The best part about having a gun guitar teacher is that they'll tailor each lesson for you, pushing you as much as you need, helping you explore new exciting areas of playing as they come up and guiding you towards your goals.
Of course, if you don't do as you're told, you still won't get results, no matter how awesome your teacher is!
A great online guitar course is similar in this regard, but with two big differences.
1. No one is checking to make sure you're following the course correctly. So, it's up to you to follow the good courses the way they're recommended (and all the best ones will tell you how much to practice, the correct order of lessons and so on)
2. It's sometimes hard to spot a bad online guitar lesson until after you've bought it. Views, guarantees and high production values do not necessarily mean that the online lessons are actually any good at teaching you to play.
So how do you find the good teachers?
Easy - find out how many students they have, how long they stick around for, talk to the teacher and talk to some of their students! If you get a good vibe, chances are you're on to a winner.
I always offer students a free evaluation lesson for this very reason. I've turned students away after evaluation lessons before for a host of reasons (wrong attitude, we can't help with their specific goals etc) and there have been many students who have decided 'no thanks' after their evaluation lesson too (time commitment required is too high, cost, not the right environment for them).
Be wary of teachers who want you to commit before you know what you're signing up for.
To find a good online course, it's a little trickier.
Even though you can't always meet the creator of an online course or lesson, you still might be able to find a free trial of some description.
There's a Blues guitar course from Frank Gambale's Online Guitar School that offers the first lesson free. This means you get a feel for how the lessons are presented first, making it easier to find out if it's right for you.
Other than that, I would always look for real, impartial reviews - ideally from people you trust (I know of a few online guitar courses that post fake reviews and threads on forums to get more signups, so be savvy!)
And it's ok for you as a student try before you commit your time and money first!
Online requires discipline, but teachers demand commitment
In some ways, playing through online lessons at your own pace is very relaxed and leisurely.
This is not always a good thing.
You've got to push yourself to get the most from your lessons. Otherwise, you'll not only slow your progress, but you'll likely find yourself bored or disengaged very quickly.
Challenge = fun!
However, the commitment that a good guitar teacher demands may be more than you're willing to give.
I demand near-daily practice from students and that may be more than you can handle, due to work, other commitments or just because you don't want to play guitar that much.
And that's totally fine.
But the reason I demand this is because that's the commitment required to get good. Really good. And those are the sorts of students we cater to.
Casual players who just want to learn a couple of easy chord songs don't come to us to learn - we focus on those who want to become guitar masters!
You've got to find the commitment level that works for you.
Is online really cheaper?
There are ultimately two costs to all types of education.
For example, it is entirely possible to become an awesome guitar player through free courses online.
However, it would take a LOT of time to sift through all the online materials to get the results you're after.
Even though a teacher is generally more expensive, having someone to guide you is a great shortcut for achieving your musical goals.
Your time is important, so factor it in when weighing up your options.
I personally always look for high quality online courses or lessons from excellent guitar teachers for my personal development because I'm at the point in my career where I just hate wasting my practice time.
That being said, expensive doesn't always equal good, so remember to do your research as discussed above when comparing online guitar courses or teachers.
Best solution? Use both.
So long as you're putting in the practice time, there's no reason why you can't use online lessons in conjunction with your guitar teacher.
I'd encourage any serious guitarist to constantly be on the lookout for new things to work on, no matter the source.
Most of our students come in each week with some song or technique they've learnt from outside our usual lessons, which is awesome. That kind of proactive approach to your playing is part of what it takes to become truly great!
I've heard of some teachers and schools who have the opposite view, and demand students only learn what they're told. Some even advise their students not to take lessons from any other teacher or institution that they don't control.
Yes, it's important to listen to your teachers, but ultimately, the more you learn the better you will become. Good teachers will help you expand on the ideas you've learnt on your own, or apply it to the rest of your playing.
However, there is one last rule to remember when taking on guitar lessons.
Only take on as much as you can manage.
There's no point trying to learn 6 genres simultaneously if you only have 1 hour for practice each week.
Which teaching format do you prefer? Have you found any great online courses or teachers in your area you can recommend? Let us know in the comments!